(My source for religious affiliation is Adherents.com)
Jews are significantly overrepresented in Congress compared to their share of the population. Jews do tend to be relatively friendlier to immigration than other white groups. But what is unusual is just how extremely pro-immigration Jewish politicians are compared to Jews as a population—exceeded in this respect only by black politicians. (I’ve discussed this phenomenon here).
Some of the importance of Jews as a group politically is their financial muscle. According to Howard M. Sachar’s The Course of Modern Jewish History, Jews made up about 20% of US millionaires in 1957. In more recent years, Jews have made up half of individual donations to the Democratic Party-and 25% of GOP individual donations. But again, these donations may not accurately represent the sensibilities of Jews as a group.
Catholics are less likely to hold substantial assets than Jews or the most prosperous Protestant denominations. But, even if we exclude the pro-immigration Hispanic politicians, who tend to oppose virtually any restriction on immigration despite rather different ideas in the actual Hispanic population, we see substantial support from Catholic representatives for unrestricted immigration. Non-Hispanic Catholic politicians are among the greatest supporters of weak immigration policy. And there are enough of them to be numerically important.
The Catholic Church is, like the GOP, a very centrally-controlled organization. It just doesn't matter much what the rank and file of Catholics—or even the lower levels of the priesthood—think or want when it comes to establishing Church policy. When you combine these factors with the sheer numbers of Catholics in the general population and in Congress, you see that Catholic politicians are the muscle behind immigration expansion in the U.S. The other immigration advocacy groups simply couldn’t do much without the numbers that Catholic legislators provide.
There are some historical reasons why the Catholic Church has a history of supporting slack immigration policy. Until shortly after the Civil War, Catholics were relatively rare in the U.S. The growth of Catholicism has accompanied the transformation of the U.S. from a "nation of citizens" towards a "nation of immigrants".
Additionally, Hispanic immigrants are now an increasingly important constituency for the Catholic Church in the United States. Many Americans with historic Catholic affiliations have left the Church. To counter this decline, the Church has increasingly relied on immigrants, notably from Latin America.
Here’s a rough calculation: About 40 percent of recent immigrants are Catholic. (Some 24 percent of all recent immigrants are Protestant, about 20 percent of recent immigrants consider themselves non-Christian although many convert soon after arriving to the U.S. Nearly 16 percent profess no religious affiliation).
From 1980 to 2000, we saw immigration of at least 22 million people. If 40 percent were Catholic, then that would be about 9 million. I estimated that if there been no immigration to the U.S., Catholics in 2000 would have consisted of 21.3 percent rather than 22.7 percent of the American population—or about 55 million Catholics compared to 59 million in 1975. (My estimate doesn't include adjustments for conversion to Protestantism of newly-arrived Catholics or inclusion of the newly born children of immigrants).
Catholics as a Percentage
According to Gastón Espinosa, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College and co-editor of Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, the vast majority of Latinos in the U.S.—70 percent—are Catholic. That makes the Catholic Church, and the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most identifiable symbol of Latino religion.
"’Although Latinos leave the Catholic Church, especially among subsequent generations, the 70 percent figure has appeared to remain relatively stable for the past decade, largely due to immigration,’ Espinosa said. ‘Catholic immigration from Mexico is so massive, it keeps the percentage stable because it replenishes the ranks of those Catholics that switch to Protestantism.’
"‘Latin American immigrants are revitalizing the church here. And they [the Catholic Church hierarchy] remind American Latinos that they are Latinos,’ Espinoza said." [Latino Religion in the U.S.: Demographic Shifts and Trends |‘Pentecostalization’ takes hold among Latinos; Catholic Church remains strong By Bruce Murray, NHCLC News, April 2006]
The Catholic Church is a large direct employer of immigrant labor. In 2003, there were 43,634 Catholic priests in the U.S. (29,285 served parishes, the rest were in religious orders). Around 5,500 of these priests were foreigners who were ordained abroad and immigrated to the U.S. as priests (or remained in the U.S. on a temporary stay for educational or other reasons). So almost 20 percent of all priests serving in the U.S. are foreign-born. That figure rises to about one in three of those recently ordained. By comparison, the U.S. work force as a whole, is about 15.3 percent foreign born.
These "international" priests come from relatively few countries, in part because they need special permission from their bishop to come to the U.S. Many of the source countries for immigrant Catholic priests have fewer priests per active Catholic than has the U.S.
I estimate that the transfer of wealth involved in Latin Americans immigration amounts to an economic value of at least $147 billion per year. Any effective support the Catholic Church gives to immigration is a huge carrot to dangle in front of potential parishioners. Essentially the Catholic Church may have maintained its hold in the U.S, and in Latin America where emigration serves as a safety valve, in part by bribing Latin Americans with immigration rights provided at the expense of U.S. citizens, overwhelmingly non-Catholic.
Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago. He works in the information technology sector and is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign’s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.
July 18, 2010
. Communication: discoverer73(at
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